Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Who's afraid of Google?

I just flipped hurriedly through several pages about Google in my Internet trust-site - Economist and it was rather a very interesting dissection of the corporation and the run down of what the corporation intends to do over the period of time. I have had always given two thumbs-up to this corporation and I strongly feel this and Apple are the two interestingly competitive ones on the face of the planet.

Before I go into a mode and start blowing the trumpets hard for Google, I found a few interesting remarks over the period of time on how the 'my shit does not stink' attitude of Google might make it to bite the dust soon if not later. Most of the corporation like Yahoo were humbled before but it is all matter of time, the experts say.

What I felt interesting was the amount of privacy infringement in social networking sites like Orkut, for starters is mind blowing. What happened as a result is couple of murders and folks were linked up as Orkut users and acquaintances blah blah. What has Google done to avoid such events again? Nothing. I was quite surprised that this happened in India because the user group that control the site is mostly from the Latin countries predominantly Brazil, Portugal etc. Wonder what is happening there. I mean on the retract, Facebook seems to be more secured to an extent than Orkut. Anyway, if this was one way of wrong usage. The other one being the infamous Google Maps. In America a phenomenon might claim to have entered mainstream culture only after it has been satirised on “The Simpsons”. Google has had that honor. The Simpson series had a dig at this and I found this way funny. Read this sequence on what happened in the episode -
"Marge Simpson types her name into Google's search engine and is amazed to get 629,000 results. (“And all this time I thought ‘googling yourself' meant the other thing.”) She then looks up her house on Google Maps, goes to “satellite view” and zooms in. To her horror, she sees Homer lying naked in a hammock outside. “Everyone can see you; get inside,” she yells out of the window, and the fumbling proceeds from there."

And that, in a nutshell, sums up Google today: it dominates the internet and guides people everywhere, such as Marge, to the information they want. But it also increasingly frightens some users by making them feel that their privacy has been intruded upon (though Marge, technically, could not have seen Homer in real time, since Google's satellite pictures are not live). And it is making enemies in its own and adjacent industries. The grand moment of Marge googling herself, for example, was instantly available not only through Fox, the firm that created the animated television show, but also on YouTube, a video site owned by Google, after fans uploaded it in violation of copyright !!!

I read an article about the futuristic thoughts in Google. This is exactly what was written - "Google evokes ambivalent feelings. Some users now keep their photos, blogs, videos, calendars, e-mail, news feeds, maps, contacts, social networks, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and credit-card information—in short, much of their lives—on Google's computers. And Google has plans to add medical records, location-aware services and much else. It may even buy radio spectrum in America so that it can offer all these services over wireless-internet connections." SCARY is all I felt when I saw this at first. I mean getting the information on the common plate is one good thing and to know that Google is not the best when it comes to saving the privacy rights and because of this they were ranked at the bottom by privacy intl? Chk this out.. So yea it is SCARY to have every thing in Google and to lose your identity all in one go. Think about it. But Google claims that the risk is minimal because only a “tiny” number of engineers have access to the databases and everything they do is recorded.

But the privacy problem is much subtler than that. As Google compiles more information about individuals, it faces numerous trade-offs. At one extreme it could use a person's search history and advertising responses in combination with, say, his location and the itinerary in his calendar, to serve increasingly useful and welcome search results and ads. This would also allow Google to make money from its many new services. But it could scare users away. Call this innovation and the highlight of this corporation.

Take a look at this. I was stunned to see this and Google has committed itself to “anonymising” the search logs on its servers after 18 months—roughly as banks cross out parts of a credit-card number, say. This would mean that search histories cannot be traced to any specific computer. Second, Google says that the bits of software called “cookies”, which store individual preferences on users' own computers, will expire every two years !

With Google's cashflow and infrastructure, the freedom to do anything it fancies gives rise to constant rumors. Often, these are outrageous. It used to be conventional wisdom that Google would build cheap personal computers for poor countries. This turned out to be nonsense, because Google does not want to make hardware. Now there is talk of a “Gphone” handset. This is also unlikely because Google is more interested in software and services, and does not want to alienate allies in the handset industry—including Apple, which shares board directors with Google and uses Google software on its iPhone.

As things stand today, Google has little to worry about. Most users continue to google with carefree abandon. The company faces lawsuits, but those are more of a nuisance than a threat. It dominates its rivals in the areas that matter, the server cloud is ready for new tasks and the cash keeps flowing. In such a situation, anybody can claim to be holier than money. The test comes when the good times end. At that point, shareholders will demand trade-offs in their favour and consumers might stop believing that Google only ever means well.

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